Worst Commercial Ever
After a long day of thinking about how I’m going to unfold my dissertation project, I feel like I need to do a little free-wheeling, easy cultural studies writing. I saw a repulsive and reprehensible commercial for Wal-Mart the other day.
U.S. forces approach a camp that appears to be in a desert landscape. It’s not clear whether we’re to take this desert camp as being in Afghanistan or Iraq, but since the commercial unfolds as a paean to troop support during this holiday season, and troops are being sent to Afghanistan, rather than Iraq, by the thousands, I suppose we’re meant to believe that this is the Afghanistan desert.
A magical music score begins to play as the soldiers look to the heavens with a sense of awe and wonder. It’s snowing in the desert! An impossibility. A miracle, and a sign that somewhere a prayer has been answered. And it has. In some undisclosed shopping mall back home, a thirty-something mom and her son leave the Santa booth and the mother stoops to ask her son what he wishes for. “Something for daddy.”
Whatever emotions this commercial seeks to evoke have to be based on the fact that most United States citizens are completely oblivious about what happens in either Iraq or Afghanistan. Sure, it doesn’t snow much in Iraq, but it does happen, as we discovered earlier last year. And when it does, there certainly isn’t any accumulation (like this Wal-Mart spot depicts).
And, of course in Afghanistan, brutal winters, dry, cold temperatures, and snowfall aren’t the sign that some magical Christmas spirit has been appeased by the wish of a spoiled rotten brat in New Jersey. Snow happens every winter, and it can be extreme. All of this is to say that the commercial “works” because Wal-Mart’s target audience doesn’t know much about Afghanistan weather, just as it knows little about the perilous war in which our country is becoming increasingly entrenched. There’s nothing magical or festive about snowfall in the Afghani desert when U.S. troops are there.
Of course, the real repulsive aspect of this ad spot is the way in which Wal-Mart takes its slogan, “Live Better,” and attaches it to U.S. imperial conquest. Yes, the United States military does help us live better in situations like this, perhaps because it protects existing systems of capital economy.
How does Wal-Mart get away with exploiting foreign war against “terrorism,” hijacking the pain of real people who are dying there every week, and using the emotive force to enhance its brand image for the upcoming holiday sales rush? Wal-Mart says that it cares about the plight of U.S. soldiers, yet it throws chicken scraps at veterans hospitals and programs. In 2008, the retailer donated $3.6 million to veterans educational programs. This is great, but it’s chump change for a business that profited $12.73 billion dollars in 2008.